WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2009 Review
|Release Date:||November 7th, 2008 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Duncan Lawson (sinna01)|
Now, there’s clearly no point in any of you fine people going elsewhere - already having come to the be-all and end-all of gaming review, preview and community sites. However, forced as I am to take some passing notice of what the rest of the console gutter-press is misguidedly spouting once in a while, an odd trait appears. Otherwise commercially successful publications that no doubt remunerate their writer handsomely seem to rotate out the normal staff and replace them with specialty scribblers when it comes time to talk about the latest instalment in one of the major wrestling franchises. The number of times the word ‘awesome’ has been used in a single article begins to become unsettling, and I swear I can actually hear the ubiquitous baseball cap wedged on their craniums, insulating the nacho cheese that percolates through their synapses.
That is of course unfair and nearly certainly unwarranted – its just that my prejudices seem to be stimulated by the fact that WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 published by THQ and designed by Yuke’s Media Creations really is a ringingly hollow game experience, but will be wildly popular none the less.
There’s nothing else in the world like American wrestling on TV. The sheer scale of the spectacle is hypnotic, and the ludicrous plots and characterisations have shot so far into the upper stratosphere of camp that anyone who can’t think of it fondly clearly has no sense of humour. The fighters are incredibly athletic, despite their titanic size, flinging them selves around with an abandon that would have made Buster Keaton proud. Practically none of the spectacle, the fun, or the speed and power of the fighters translates into SmackDown vs. Raw 2009, leaving you reminded of the ludicrousness of the activity itself with none of the glamour to suspend your disbelief.
One of the selling points of the official WWE games, particularly SmackDown vs. Raw, has been the array of customisation and options there are to play with. Nearly any conceivable scenario involving the roster of 60 or so wrestling superstars and arenas can be created, with options on everything from AI traits to rules to music to objects to move sets are all customizable. Given the breadth of customization available, it is amazing how little difference this will make to your gaming experience, especially in single player.
The fight mechanic would be regarded as universally awful if SmackDown vs. Raw was openly compared with any of the leading fighting games on the next-gen consoles. The protagonists move ponderously, the fight themselves lack direction or rhythm and unless in the case of a one-way whupping it is never even particularly clear who in the hell is winning. That said SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 is a step up on previous instalments, and the controls are fairly clearly and intuitively mapped, and will actually respond when prompted, albeit unspectacularly.
WWE fights are amazing and seeped in panto-esque drama chiefly because they are very carefully scripted to be so. As soon as the behemoths involved start winging it and actually trying to win it simply becomes repetitive and confused. The basic fight mechanic is to punch and kick your opponent until you can lay on a little grapple or wrestling move, thereby stunning them to do something slightly more violent, and so on until their stamina bar is depleted and something unholy can be done to them to knock them out or keep them down long enough to be pinned. It is quite interesting to have a fight without the omnipresent health bar to chip away at – as stamina can be regained by hitting the opponent. Body parts can become damaged to your detriment, but a concerted rally can see the underdog regain the upper hand and turn the match around, which can make for fun TV but a bit of a grind in terms of game play.
There are actually quite a few move variants to be discovered that do strangely little in terms of actually winning a match. The ‘hot-tag’ feature for instance. Upon your character getting a pummelling and being laid out flat on the mat, via button bashing you can crawl in a pantomime of vaudevillian agony and desperation towards your corner and your partners wildly outstretched hand. Successfully tag and wrestler two will then bound into the ring with a strength and stamina boost. It’s fun to watch and does inject a little of the mad theatre of wrestling – but as a fighting technique it’s nearly useless. The boost your tagged-in fighter is given is rarely enough to make up for the intentionally agonisingly slow way this is to actually tag in, and the whole point of performing it is to simply imitate the ludicrous acting of the TV matches. This is a fun thing to watch, but not a fun thing to do.
Despite the impressive, showy complexity of the wrestling moves the controls are typically easy to master and on the whole responsive. Movement is on the left stick, grapples on the right, a block and a run modifier on the shoulders, punching and kicking on two of the face buttons, with the others performing context and special moves. The actual texturing and animation for the wrestlers is solid if uninspired, and can sit comfortably amongst the current next-gen offerings. Given the disparity in size of some of the wrestlers – tiny wiry guys, nubile eye candy, man mountains – the clipping and collision detection is surprisingly good most of the time. There is a certain amount of amusement to be had in having a 90 pound cheerleader in a silver bikini heaving a muscled leviathan over the ropes and out of the ring entirely, but not enough to make a game of it.
For the solo gamer there are two main modes – Career and Road to Wrestlemania. RtoW allows the player the choice of six wrestlers, and will actually have some semblance of plot strung around the ten or so matches their strand comprises of. The posturing and the panto of the cut scenes recaptures some of the magnificent silliness lacking in other aspects of the game, but the mode only pits you against the same four wrestlers again and again, usually as a tag-team, and 80% of the off-canvas action is the same entrance routines repeated. The status quo of tedium is soon re-established.
Aside from randomised quickmatches, the other single player offering is the Career mode, where any one of the large roster of wrestlers can be chosen to compete in any of the six or so different trophy categories, comprised of six fights apiece. Your chosen wrestler will improve their stats dependent on how you used them - with additional points being added to body / speed / stamina / power etc based on how far you ran, how many grapples succeeded and the like. These improvements in practice turn out to be too slight for the unaided human eye to detect, so are safely ignored like so many of S v. R well meaning but poorly instigated extras.
WWE SmackDown vs. Raw ’09 is not a good single player game. It’s not even particularly good for casual co-op or vs. multiplayer. What it does excel at is as a sandbox for the real wrestling fans to live out their titanic team up and smackdown fantasies. The average gamer simply will not be educated or enthused enough about the individual characters, moves, areas and styles to be sufficiently excited about them in isolation from core gameplay. If you and your buddies know the names of each and every single one of Rey Mysterio or Tripple H’s moves, then you’ll no doubt hop up and down in pimply delight at seeing them recreated in glorious High-Def on command. All the myriad of options and tweaks not doing a thing for the vast majority of the gaming population will likely overflow with promise if you stay up of nights on MyFace arguing with your buddies over who would win improbable tag team matches. Your local Woolworths will be fully stocked with action figures of the wrestling superstar stable de jour, and WWE SmackDown vs. Raw ’09 is little different from these figurines: overpriced, underdeveloped, frankly tedious for just about everyone, but an absolute must have and all the fun of the fair for the dedicated WWE nerdling and his friends.
- Well rendered and animated likenesses of your Wrestling heroes
- Extensive tweak and customisation features
- Accessible controls and fight mechanic
Not so good stuff
- Repetitive game play
- Well meaning but under-implemented features
- Shallow single-player modes
- Not anywhere near the big, brassy, loud guilty pleasure it should be
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